Galilee Mayor Objects to Arab Joining Town, Vows to Keep Its 'Circassian Character'

Members of ethnic minority fear non-Circassian couple will cause Kafr Kama to 'lose its identity,' citing examples of Jewish towns who kept out Arabs

Demonstration in Kafr Kama against the sale of a home to a non-Circassian couple, July 11, 2019.
Gil Eliyahu

The mayor of a town in the Galilee said last week that he would act to preserve the community’s “Circassian character” and prevent people who are not members of the ethnic minority from living in the town.

Zachri Nebaso, who heads the Kafr Kama Local Council, made the remarks Wednesday in a letter to residents of the town, in response to news that a non-Circassian married couple had won a government tender to build a home there. One of the pair is Arab.

Israel’s Circassian minority, a mainly Muslim ethnic group from the northern Caucasus that was settled in northern Israel by the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century, is divided between Kafr Kama and Rehania, also in the Galilee. Some 4,000 people live in Kafr Kama; Rehania has a population of around 1,200.

>>Read more: A woman digs for her Circassian family's roots - and plants her own - in the Golan

Circassian men serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

“I contacted relatives of the couple and explained that we must all demonstrate responsibility and keep outsiders from building on lots meant for residents of the town,” Nebaso wrote in the letter. “This is a declaration that outsiders shall not build in the town,” he wrote, adding that he had held consultations on the matter.

“Kafr Kama is a Circassian community, with a special character that we all have a duty to protect,” Nebaso went on to say in the letter, adding that discretion should be used in an effort to solve the problem in a cordial way.

More than 1,200 people, many of them residents of Kafr Kama, signed a petition protesting the planned sale of a building lot to non-Circassians who don’t live in the town. “If we don’t wake up, there will be additional cases, and in a few years the village will lose its Circassian identity, which we have fought for ever since our grandparents came here,” the petition said.

It mentioned a sale of building lots in the Western Galilee Jewish community of Kfar Vradim that was suspended after Arabs bought them. The mayor of Kfar Vradim cited the need to preserve the town’s Zionist-Jewish-secular character.

Residents of Kafr Kama demonstrated outside the town council building Wednesday night, waving the Circassian flag and holding signs with slogans.

Some of them read, “For the sake of our children’s future” and “We’re not against anyone, we just want to preserve our Circassian identity.” A number of residents changed their Facebook profile picture to an image of the Circassian flag.

Nebaso declined requests for comment, as did town residents contacted by Haaretz.

In a statement, the Israel Land Authority said the land tender was conducted in accordance with all applicable regulations and was open to all eligible applicants.

“The Israel Land Authority is in compliance with the law and the rulings of the Israel Land Council, and the tender is open to all residents of the state who meet the criteria of the tender,” the statement said.